Supertram's leftover land headache

Exclusive

By Paul Robinson

TRANSPORT chiefs in Leeds have been saddled with millions of pounds worth of unwanted land following the collapse of the city’s Supertram plans.

Bosses at Leeds City Council and Metro, West Yorkshire’s public transport supervisory body, began acquiring land along the light rail network’s three proposed lines after the project was given the go-ahead in 2001.

Properties snapped up included an 8,000sq ft warehouse in Hunslet, the First Church of Christ Scientist Leeds in Headingley and Hoagy’s Bar on Eastgate in the city centre.

In all, 98 plots of land were the subject of compulsory purchase orders before Transport Secretary Alistair Darling controversially pulled the plug on Supertram last year.

Metro insists it is impossible to put a figure on their combined value – but Leeds-based property firm Lambert Smith Hampton says it is likely to run into millions of pounds.

And today the transport body admitted that, nearly six months after Mr Darling brought the axe down on Supertram, it still does not know what it is going to do with the land.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, said news of the problematic property portfolio was another example of the “folly” of the decision to cancel the scheme.

Limbo

He told the YEP: “The Government might have walked away and washed its hands of the whole affair – sadly the people and businesses of Leeds cannot do that. They have been left in limbo.”

A spokesman for Metro said it was too early to make any decision on the future of the land.

“Discussions are currently taking place regarding alternative transport solutions for Leeds, including proposed rapid transit bus routes.

“Such schemes may utilise some or all of the land previously acquired for Supertram,” he said.

He also stressed that the majority of the plots were small slivers of kerb or verge.

The spokesman said all spending on Supertram, including land acquisitions, had been approved in advance by the Department for Transport.

He confirmed that one of the buildings purchased, the Hunslet warehouse, had been demolished. That step had been taken on health and safety grounds, however, rather than as preparation for the start of work on Supertram.

In cases where properties were still occupied, added the spokesman, the council and Metro were now effectively acting as landlords.

The cost of the purchases and compensation payouts to owners was included in the well-documented 40m price tag for the doomed efforts to get the light rail scheme off the ground.

Alistair Darling said Supertram did not offer “the best value for money for the people of Leeds.”

Last week, though, the YEP revealed civil servants had told him the system would offer good value.

paul.robinsons@ypn.co.uk